Major League Baseball to Investigate Steroid Use

Commissioner Bud Selig announces an investigation into alleged steroid use by Major League Baseball players. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell will lead the effort. A recent book alleging steroid use by star player Barry Bonds helped push officials to take action.

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Major league baseball has launched an investigation into alleged steroid use among its players. Commissioner Bud Selig announced yesterday that the probe will be headed by the former Senate majority leader George Mitchell. NPR's Luke Burbank reports.

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

Even by 1800s standards, Jim Pud Galvin didn't have the ideal body to be a pitcher. He was short and stocky, his nickname was The Little Steam Engine and yet, thanks to his blazing fastball and a mean pick-off move, he managed to win 364 games in his pro career.

Towards the end of that career though, in 1889, his body started to wear out. So, for a little boost, he turned to something called the Elixir of Brown-Sequard, a fancy name for testosterone taken from live animals.

Mr. ROGER ABRAMS (Richardson Professor of Law, School of Law, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts): Did that actually work? I don't think so. It was probably a placebo effect but it certainly was testosterone.

BURBANK: Roger Abrams is a law professor at Northeastern University. He uncovered this early use of performance enhancement while researching an upcoming book on cheating in baseball. Maybe the most amazing part of the story, though, is that way back in 1889, no one seemed to have a problem with Galvin's juicing. The Washington Post lauded the elixir as a valuable discovery. In fact, Abrams says, other cities wanted their players using it.

Mr. ABRAMS: The press said: Gee, this brown cigar stuff looks good. I hope our local nine uses it.

BURBANK: Boy, have things changed.

Mr. ALLAN BUD SELIG (Commissioner of Baseball): The unique circumstances surrounding BALCO and the evidence revealed in a recently published book have convinced me that major league baseball must undertake an investigation of the allegations that players have used illegal performance enhancing substances.

BURBANK: That's baseball commissioner Bud Selig. The BALCO he referred to is the Bay Area lab that allegedly provided performance enhancers to a number of athletes. Heading up the investigation is former U.S. senator George Mitchell.

Senator GEORGE MITCHELL (Former Democratic Senator, Maine): I've been assured by the commissioner that I will have complete independence and discretion as to the manner in which this investigation will be conducted.

BURBANK: But the question is, what'll happen if Mitchell actually finds something? The league won't say what sorts of punishment it might hand out. Any allegations that predate 2002 will be tricky, because before that, steroids weren't actually banned under league rules. And, since baseball is really a private business, it can't subpoena players or offer immunity for those who might admit breaking the law.

Mr. JOHN DOWD (Attorney): You're not gonna get the kind of factual information you need unless it's done right.

BURBANK: John Dowd is the man baseball turned to last time it had this sort of scandal on its hands. He authored The Dowd Report, a 225 page study on the gambling habits of one, Pete Rose, the league's all-time hits leader.

Rose has still not been allowed into the Hall of Fame, a penalty that the league could also impose on someone like, say, Barry Bonds if it decided to. While Dowd agrees an investigation is in order, he doesn't think Senator Mitchell, who currently holds an executive position with the Boston Red Sox, should be the person leading it.

Mr. DOWD: That's just not good. It's not the kind of baggage you want to have when you conduct one of these things.

BURBANK: Barry Bonds hasn't said what, if anything he'll do about the investigation. He's been busy tuning up for the start of the regular season, a season in which he could very well become baseball's all-time homerun leader. The league won't comment on how it plans to commemorate that event should it happen. Luke Burbank, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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